The federal government should use federal taxes to pay for national services. State governments should tax their citizens to pay for state services. Local governments should pay for local services with local funds.
That was the essence of Ronald Reagan's economic philosophy. If we were starting a new government today, it would be relatively simple to put such practices in place.
Instead, our nation has had more than 225 years to make things far more complicated. President Reagan started that tide turning, much to the chagrin of his political foes. We're slowly seeing some of the results -- including a trickle-down problem confronting Columbia County's government, headquartered on Ronald Reagan Drive.
With state budget cuts in the past seven or so years, Georgia agencies have been forced to cut back. That's the way it should be; many of Georgia's government services suffered from bureaucratic bloat and needed a diet.
Columbia County, like other communities, has felt the pinch when those cuts tighten the belt of local offices.
The Forestry Service office near Grovetown, for example, absorbed Richmond County's duties when their Forestry office shut down. Chief Ranger Steve Abbott now finds himself overwhelmed with the volume of telephone calls from citizens in the region. He's asking the county to pay for a part-time secretary for the forestry unit.
Abbott isn't the only one looking for help: The county's Extension Service office, also trimmed in recent budget cuts, wants a booster shot of funds from the county to help pay for salaries and cell phones. And the county already has renovated and is paying rent on bigger offices for the state driver's license bureau in Evans.
Obviously these agencies are providing direct service to the citizens of Columbia County, and those citizens shouldn't mind spending part of their tax dollars to pay for it.
But as Columbia County commissioners debate how best to use limited local funds, here's a Reaganesque philosophical question they should answer to provide them guidance: If these services didn't exist, would Columbia County officials feel compelled to come up with the money to provide them on its own?
If the answer is yes, then paying for a small share of a mostly state-funded service is a good deal for taxpayers. But if the answer is no, then the county should study hard before saying yes to any such funding requests.
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